This week I’ve been ‘camping’ in the back yard. We haven’t had rain for a long time and none is predicted for a long time into the future. So I’ve been sleeping in the tent without the rain fly.
The first night, a cool breeze touching my face and tucked under my blankets, I was looking up trying to see the few stars that shine in my light polluted neighborhood when I noticed a flash, almost out of my line of vision. I stared in that direction for several seconds but didn’t see anything, so I returned to my search for stars.
The flash happened again, higher but still almost beyond the open space above the tent. I stared some more. Nothing.
And then it happened. TWO lights blinked, right above the tent and I realized the lightening bugs had arrived for the summer! I couldn’t contain my smile. Lightening bugs, stars and a cool late night summer breeze. A perfect summer night in Michigan.
I have no pictures, but I’m sure if you close your eyes you can imagine it all for yourself. And I’m thinking you’ll smile too.
Today marks three months since you went over that bridge alone. I think about you every day. But you know that, don’t you.
This morning I went to your park to take a walk. It’s the first time I’ve been there alone since you left.
You know your daddy and I were at your park just after that day, with your Aunt Beth, and she played the bagpipes for you near the pond.
I haven’t been able to go back since, sweetie, not without you. It hurt so much to be a Katie’s Park today, but I had a mission.
I’ll get to that in a bit.
First of all I parked at the township office instead of where you and I always parked. I didn’t think I was ready for everything to be the same and yet so different. So I parked in a different spot.
That helped me get out of the car.
The park was beautiful, as always. You would have loved it, the air was cool and the sun was just up over the treetops.
But you wouldn’t have loved getting your feet wet. The path was overgrown, here at summer’s end, and the grass was long and heavy with dew.
The good sniffs might have made up for your wet paws though. I imagine you wouldn’t have grumbled too much, you loved walking in your park so much.
I smiled at that thought.
I was pretty proud of myself, that I smiled at all. Because mostly I was crying as I walked along. I imagined you everywhere. All our favorite places.
Your turtle friends were out but I didn’t see much else. That might have been because my eyes were all leaky.
It was even hard for me to tell if stuff was in focus on my camera. Yes, silly, of course I brought the camera. Though it wasn’t as much fun without you.
Anyway, my mission was to hang a memory tag on the remembrance tree. You remember when your Aunt Karen and you and I hung some tags for Reilly and Denny and Norwood, right?
Well, she had a special tag made for you and she gave it to me after you had to go. I haven’t been able to hang it on the tree until today. I put it right next to your handsome fiancé Reilly’s tag.
I know you and Reilly are together now, and you’re both loving the beach and the woods while you wait for your people to arrive. It makes me feel better to know you have so many friends there with you.
Today I hung your tag at your favorite park, sweetie. I just wanted you to know. Miss you baby-girl.
Well, of course I know mama! Where do you think I was while you were wandering around and crying all over my park? I was right there beside you. Silly mama, I’m always right there beside you. Thanks for hanging my tag, it’s real pretty. Thank Aunt Karen for getting it for me too, OK?
Love you always, mama. Tell daddy I love him too. Got to go now, Reilly wants to go run on the beach.
So what does a person do all day while waiting for true dark to arrive? Besides nap that is.
Well, on the one day the skies were clear while I was in the UP I wandered the Manistique waterfront looking for other things to photograph while impatiently urging the sun to hurry up and sink.
The mouth of the Manistique River was being dredged so I watched that for awhile. It was sort of interesting, but you can only watch so many piles of mud being moved before you have to move on.
I couldn’t resist walking out on the causeway leading to the shiny red lighthouse. It was such a pretty day.
I spent quite a bit of time out there waiting for the sun to go down. And watching the light glint off the water.
A couple of guys were fishing but they hid behind the lighthouse for me to get some shots.
But as the sun lowered I came back into shore.
The evening light makes everything so pretty.
And then, slowly, slowly, the sun sank and the blue hour began.
Earlier in the day I had scoped out a place to set up, hoping that the Milky Way would be near the lighthouse from my vantage point. The compass said it should be. But I knew I only had one night so I hoped I wasn’t wrong.
I waited impatiently. It takes forever for the night to get truly dark. And then….a few stars decide to turn on their lights.
I still couldn’t tell exactly where the Milky Way was going to shine…but the stars made me smile anyway. And then….finally, finally, there it was. It was pretty darn amazing. I don’t know why the beach wasn’t full of people just staring.
I stayed out there a long time. A lot of it not shooting, just standing there, in the moment.
Because, really, how many shots can you take of the same lighthouse with the Milky Way? Well, as it turns out…several dozen. You see, the dark sky requires that you have a high ISO and a wide open aperture and that causes grainy shots.
But you can stack them. Did you know that? There’s software that will lay your photos, one on top of the other, and match up your stars and eliminate anything different. And that clears up a lot of the grainy noise. Huh. So I was taking 7 shots of each shot, in preparation for stacking. But I learned, just this week, I should have taken 10 to 15 shots to stack.
So, anyway, these are single images, no stacking here, just a little editing to bring out the whites and sometimes to lift the shadows.
I still have so much to learn…so many technical things that I can do to make the images more clear, more beautiful. But the Milky Way season here in Michigan is almost over. There will be one more chance in October, just a few nights, and then I’ll have to be patient until 2023.
Yea right. I can hardly handle waiting for the sun to set in a single evening. How am I going to get through months of no Milky Way?
Let’s see…last you knew I was hanging out in Mackinaw City waiting for it to stop raining so I could continue on over the bridge to my next adventure.
Yep, I was feeling pretty good. Almost kinda certain that I had gotten some decent Milky Way shots at my last location. Of course I didn’t really know, but was feeling good about it.
And I was so excited to be heading to a new (to me) location to find more dark skies. I had a campsite booked for three nights at Fayette State Park which is located at the bottom of the “Garden Peninsula,” a piece of land jutting down into Lake Michigan from the southern edge of the UP. Should be perfect, right?
Well…wrong. When I arrived at the park about 4 p.m. and drove to my site I found a very small site (not necessarily a deal breaker) that was entirely sloped, about the size of 2 cars, and totally a mud pit.
I sat there in the drizzle for the amount of time it took me to say”H*LL NO,” and then I drove the long 14 miles back up to civilization where I sat beside the road and searched the internet for a cheap hotel.
Along the way, down and back up, I did note that the Garden Peninsula itself was beautiful. With lots of barns and windmills and such.
So that made it a bit easier when I had to drive back down there again to formally check out of the campground that I never camped in so that I could get a refund for the other two nights.
A sixty dollar refund was worth the drive too. I should have just checked out the evening before when I decided not to stay but I was so freaked out by the campground I just ran.
I made reservations at another state park, Indian Lake, which pretty close to the town of Manistique. It was a much nicer place, with larger camp sites and grass. It wasn’t full my first night so I had a distant view of the lake, though the second night someone camped behind me. Still, I had plenty of room.
And it was only three miles away from the lighthouse where I spent a lot of hours waiting for a sunset and hoping for a chance at a decent Milky Way image.
Did I get that image? Well, as usually this post is getting too long, and I still have lots of images to edit. So I guess you’ll have to wait and see.
I just had another 2 hour lesson from my Milky Way teacher and I now know more about what I don’t know. I guess I need to get out there for another practice session!
I took myself off for a camping adventure this week. First stop was a park Katie and I have visited several times. Most of the time we end up in site 43.
Turns out four years ago yesterday Katie and I were at this very site, packing up, heading for home.
But first I took her up to the Mackinaw Bridge, because she had never seen it. She wasn’t all that impressed. And the ride home was extra long because we went north before we went south. But she was a trooper and never complained. Much.
This trip I stopped at a rest stop just before my exit, because it’s one of Katie’s favorite rest stops. Turns out there was a commercial truck inspection going on. All trucks were mandated to pull off the freeway at the rest stop so commercial vehicle inspectors could check their rigs and their hours of service.
I walked over to the table at the front of the inspection line and thanked the two officers there. I told them the truth, that whenever I saw them and a commercial truck pulled over I give them a thumbs up and that it was nice to be able to do that in person.
Then I gave them my Truck Safety Card, thanked them again, and went on my way feeling better about our roads knowing the state police are working on it.
Next month I’ll be in DC again, along with many other families and victims of truck crashes. We’ll be voicing our objections to some things going on (teen truckers) and asking for more changes, (increased minimum insurance, automatic emergency braking on ALL trucks) many of the same changes we’ve been asking ever since I started this journey almost 18 years ago.
Here it is already a week since we drove home from our UP adventure and I still have more to show you. Maybe I should stop talking and just let you look.
On our third and last day in the UP we got headed west toward Grand Marais where I assured my friend we’d find more stones.
But along the way we drove up to Deer Park, north of Newberry, and then along Lake Superior’s coast and stopped at a delightful little beach with the prettiest stones!
I don’t think I found any flat white ones, but my friend found quite a few beautiful souvenirs.
And we left a souvenir for someone else to find too.
And then we headed over to Grand Marais.
Many people searching this beach are looking for agates. I wouldn’t know an agate from a rubber duck, so I just looked for flat white stones to paint. I didn’t find many of those either.
But the weather was beautiful with big fluffs of white clouds dressing up the sky and we had a great time wandering.
We didn’t stay long, we were hungry and still had miles to go to get to Munising, our next stop. But we left a painted treasure for someone to find before we left.
It’s kind of a long way to go for a sandwich, but we enjoyed the glimpses of Lake Superior that we found along the way. We were hoping to stop at a couple of waterfalls in Munising before heading back to Whitefish Point for the sunset.
We ate at Subway, noting exotic, but filling. And of course we stopped for a visit with Munising’s Bigfoot, where we left another treasure.
The traffic was terrible in Munising, backed up for miles coming into town from 3 directions. We decided to nix the idea of getting in line to get out to one of the waterfalls, and headed to one that was on the way out of town, Wagner Falls.
There’s a short mostly flat boardwalk back to the falls, and we were lucky that there weren’t many people stopping for a visit.
We took a few pictures…
…and then hid our treasure and were on our way back toward Whitefish Point.
We had a long drive to get there before sunset, but we arrived early enough to appreciate the golden light on all the driftwood, and the clouds streaking the sky. This could turn out to be a stunning sunset!
We wandered the beach, noticing how pretty everything was in the evening light…
… and how the beach moves and changes every day.
We found a couple of places to hide more treasure and then waited for the sun to settle down and set.
Most people left the beach once the sun was below the horizon, but we were out there for the long haul (and to find Yooper Lights) so we waited in the cooling air to see what would happen next.
And we were rewarded by intense color and beautiful shapes. It just kept getting better until it finally died into grey. The sun was done for the day, but we weren’t.
After the sun was down we looked for Yooper Lights (stones that glow in inferred light) along with a few other late night stone addicts.
Though we didn’t find any that night, the night before, on a cold windy evening, we witnessed a young boy and his dad find a stone that glowed. The boy was soooo excited, jumping up and down in the cold Superior waves. We got him and his dad to show us what the stone looked like, and in the midst of the conversation the boy turned and looked at us, his eyes wide and said:
“I really wish I was wearing long pants!”
We roared in laughter, in all the excitement he’d been running in and out of the water of the coldest lake around without a care. Until he stopped to talk to us.
And that’s kind of the way our whole trip was. We didn’t always find what we set out to see, the perfect rock, the perfect view, the perfect sunset.
But the excitement of the whole experience kept us motivated to continue the adventure regardless. And though there were moments we wished we were wearing long pants, on the whole, it was a perfect summer trip. Mosquitoes and all.
And just think, there are all those treasures out there just waiting to be found.